Lymph nodes are located throughout the body. They are small, bean-shaped glands that play a crucial role in the immune system. During an infection, a person may notice swollen lymph nodes.

The body contains hundreds of lymph nodes. They form clusters around the body and are particularly prominent in areas such as the neck, armpit, groin, and behind the ears.

They filter lymphatic fluid, which helps rid the body of germs and remove waste products.

The body’s cells and tissues dispose of waste products in lymphatic fluid, which lymph nodes filter. During this process, they catch bacteria and viruses that could harm the rest of the body.

Lymph nodes are an essential part of the body’s immune system. Due to their function, they come into contact with toxins, which can cause them to swell. Although swollen lymph nodes are common, they may occasionally indicate lymph node cancer or lymphoma.

Keep reading to learn more about lymph nodes and their function within the immune system.

doctor checking woman's lymph nodes for swellingShare on Pinterest
vitapix/Getty Images

Lymph nodes are part of the lymphatic system, which is a complex network of nodes and vessels.

In certain areas of the body, such as the neck, armpit, and groin, lymph nodes sit close to the skin. This means a person may feel them swell when an infection develops.

Lymph nodes are also present in the stomach and between the lungs. However, there are no lymph nodes in the brain or spinal cord.

The name of a lymph node depends on its location in the body.

Name of lymph nodeLocation
cervicalin the neck
axillaryin the armpit
inguinalin the groin

Learn more about lymph nodes.

Lymph nodes form clusters throughout the body. Their main function is to filter out potentially harmful substances.

All tissues and cells in the body excrete lymphatic fluid, or lymph to eliminate waste products. The lymph then travels through vessels in the lymphatic system and passes through lymph nodes for filtering.

Lymph nodes contain lymphocytes. These are a type of white blood cells that help destroy pathogens, such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi. When lymph nodes detect a pathogen in the lymph, they produce more lymphocytes, which causes them to swell.

Upon encountering bacteria or damaged cells, lymph nodes destroy them and turn them into a waste product.

When the lymph reenters the bloodstream, waste products travel to the kidneys and liver. The body then excretes waste products in the urine and feces.

Learn more about how the lymphatic system works.

Swollen lymph nodes do not always indicate cancer.

Below, we list some conditions that can cause lymph node swelling and their associated symptoms.


Lymphadenitis occurs when bacteria, viruses, or fungi in the lymph infect lymph nodes. When this happens, lymph nodes swell and are painful to the touch.

If multiple clusters of nodes become infected, a person may feel pain and swelling in their neck and groin.

Most of the time, people experience localized lymphadenitis. This means the condition only affects a few nodes. If the infection occurs in several node clusters, a doctor will likely diagnose generalized lymphadenitis.

The condition usually results from an infection elsewhere in the body.


Symptoms of lymphadenitis include:

  • sore, swollen nodes
  • matted nodes, which can be soft or firm
  • skin streaking around the nodes
  • abscesses
  • presence of inflammatory fluid or cells


Lymphadenitis treatments include:

The type of treatment necessary will depend on various factors, such as the severity of the disease and a person’s underlying conditions and allergies. A doctor will help a person choose the most suitable treatment based on these factors.

Learn more about swollen lymph nodes in the neck.

Viral or bacterial throat infections

Swollen lymph nodes in the neck may be due to a viral or bacterial throat infection, such as strep throat.

Viral infections

Viral throat infections, such as colds, can present with swollen lymph nodes, a runny nose, and pinkeye.

These infections usually resolve on their own. However, a person can take over-the-counter pain medications to alleviate pain they may experience when swallowing.

Strep throat

Strep throat is a bacterial infection that develops in the throat and tonsils due to group A streptococcus. People may contract the infection if they come into contact with droplets containing the strep bacteria.

A person with strep throat may experience swollen lymph nodes on the neck, as well as:

Doctors treat strep throat with antibiotics.

Learn more about what causes a sore throat and swollen glands.


Impetigo is an infection that develops due to group A streptococcus and may cause lymph nodes to swell.

The bacteria can enter the skin directly or through breaks in the skin, for example, through a minor cut or rash.


Symptoms of impetigo include:

  • swollen lymph nodes
  • itchy spots or sores around the nose or mouth that occur with a change in skin color
  • painful sores
  • honey color crust
  • blisters


If a person has impetigo, they should seek medical attention to address their symptoms and prevent the condition from spreading to others.

Treatment will usually involve antibiotics.

Learn about what else can cause a rash and swollen lymph nodes.


Ringworm, or jock itch, is a fungal infection that can affect many areas of the body. If the fungus develops in the groin, a person may experience swollen lymph nodes in that area.

Typically, ringworm starts as a fungal lesion. The fungus often spreads from person to person through the use of shared towels.

Ringworm thrives in moist environments; therefore, a person should dry thoroughly after washing or swimming and try not to stay in damp clothes.


Common ringworm symptoms include:

  • a patchy rash with a ring-like appearance and clear borders
  • itchiness
  • stinging
  • flaky skin


A doctor will prescribe an antifungal treatment to address ringworm.

The best way to prevent ringworm is to wear breathable fabrics, avoid sharing towels and personal equipment, and dry thoroughly after bathing.

Learn more about swollen lymph nodes in the groin.

Lymphoma is a type of cancer that affects the lymphatic system. The two main types of lymphoma are Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.


Typical symptoms of lymphoma include:

These are also common symptoms of viral infections, making it challenging for doctors to diagnose lymphoma. However, in people with lymphoma, symptoms tend to persist for longer periods.

These symptoms do not clearly indicate cancer. If a person experiences any of these, they should contact a doctor to identify the cause of their symptoms.


Treatment options for lymphoma include:

  • CAR T cell therapy: This is a type of immunotherapy that uses a person’s own immune system to attack cancer cells.
  • Chemotherapy: This therapy uses medication to destroy cancer cells.
  • Radiation therapy: This treatment uses high-energy beams to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors.
  • Stem cell transplant: A person receives stem cells from a donor. After they undergo high doses of chemotherapy, which destroys cancer cells and damaged blood cells, doctors implant stem cells, which produce new, healthy blood cells.

Learn more about cancer in the lymph nodes.

A person should contact a healthcare professional if they are experiencing persistent swelling of lymph nodes.

Swelling usually indicates an infection, so a person should not immediately worry about lymphoma.

After reaching a diagnosis, a doctor will recommend the appropriate course of treatment.

The following are some commonly asked questions about lymph nodes.

What can cause swollen lymph nodes?

Common causes of swollen lymph nodes include common temporary illnesses, such as colds or throat infections. Viral infections, such as infectious mononucleosis, may also cause lymph nodes to swell. In rare cases, the cause may be more serious, such as cancer.

What does lymphoma in the armpit look like?

Lymphoma in the armpit may look like a swollen lump. It is typically painless. A biopsy is the only way to determine whether lymphoma is the cause. A person should visit a doctor if the lump is larger than 1.5 centimeters (cm) in diameter, they have multiple lumps, or lumps in various locations.

Where are cancerous lymph nodes located?

Cancer can affect lymph nodes throughout the body. Some lymph nodes, such as those in the neck, armpit, and groin, are near the skin’s surface, so a person may see or feel them when they swell.

Lymph nodes are a part of the lymphatic system. They filter lymph, which contains pathogens and damaged cells, and send the dead cells to the kidneys and liver.

Lymph node swelling usually results from an infection. In rare cases, however, it may be due to lymphoma.

If a person is concerned about swelling and other symptoms, they should contact a doctor.